Campaign Budgeting 101 – Fundraising

True or False:

You have to spend money to make money.

False!  Well, sometimes it helps, but it’s certainly not mandatory, especially in the beginning.  The amount of money you set aside for fundraising purposes will largely depend on how you plan to fundraise.  Many candidates hear about $1,000 plate dinner fundraisers and get it in their heads that this is a ‘normal’ way to fundraise.  Not at all, my friend, not at all!  Here are some typical fundraising methods real, down-to-earth, local candidates use:

  • Sending a fundraising letter to friends, family and potential donors
  • Calling people who’ve donated generously to candidates in the past and asking them to contribute to you as well
  • Asking people for money in person (specifically people who can afford to give $500+ to start with)
  • Hosting an event and charging people to come to it
  • Accepting donations online
There are about as many ways to fundraise as there are candidates running for office.  Creativity is a very useful talent in this category, because you’re going to have to think up some creative ways to fundraise without spending a small fortune on a ‘traditional’ fundraiser.

Here are some of the things you’ll need to spend money on under the ‘fundraising’ category:

  • Stationary, envelopes and thank you notes (this could be considered an administrative cost instead)
  • Postage
  • Event invitations
  • Food
  • Venue rental
  • Transportation, in the case you have a meeting with a PAC Director considering donating
  • Admission to GOP networking events where you intend to meet potential donors

As you can see, the real spending doesn’t happen unless you decide to hold a formal event, and even in that case, there are plenty of ways to cut costs.  The goal of fundraising is to bring money in, not send it out, so remember that when you’re planning your fundraisers and make sure you’ll getting the most bang for your buck. However, budget yourself a realistic amount – the last thing you want to do is give yourself such a tight fundraising budget you can’t actually raise any funds.

Unfortunately I can’t tell you exactly how much to budget for fundraising – after all, a great deal of that will be determined by your fundraising goals.  I can tell you that raising $100,000 doesn’t have to cost that much more than raising $10,000.  I can not stress enough that the bulk of the money you raise will come from sitting down with donors and asking them for money.  And it costs zero dollars to do that.  The difference between a $100,000 goal and a $10,000 goal is not how much money you spend on a fundraising event, but rather the people you ask for money and how much you ask them for.

So what are the steps to developing the Fundraising section of your budget?

  1. Research potential donors through your state’s online campaign finance directories and with the help of former candidates’ lists.
  2. Compile a list of potential donors, including friends and family, complete with name, address, phone number, notes on how much they’ve donated in the past and what you intend to ask them for.
  3. Compile a list of PACs that may donate to your campaign and research their requirements.
  4. Estimate the costs of sending an initial introductory fundraising letter – include paper, printing, envelopes, postage, etc.  I recommend doing this by hand – your list will likely be somewhere between 50 and 200 addresses.
  5. Set tentative dates for fundraisers – front load them into the schedule if possible to save room for grassroots/GOTV efforts closer to election day.
  6. Estimate the costs of venue rental and food based on a ‘typical’ number of attendees – you’ll need to talk to former candidates and local GOP leaders to get a rough idea.
  7. List all your potential costs and total them up.  Then start looking for ways to save money.

How do you save money on throwing a real fundraising event?  Here are a few examples I’ve used in the past – bear in mind these are mostly for city council up to state representative level campaigns:

  • Have a relative/friend/supporter throw a backyard barbecue and charge $25-50 per person to attend.  The buns and burgers are a small in-kind donation from the host, so be sure to note it in your campaign finance paperwork.
  • Have a supporter who owns a restaurant?  I’ve been lucky enough on a couple of occasions – they’ll often provide the space and food (note the in-kind donation!) during non-rush hours.  Depending on the venue, you could charge anywhere from $20 to $200 for the event.
  • Host your fundraiser at GOP Headquarters if it’s relatively nice.  They’ll probably let you use the space for free.
  • There are often big supporters who can’t shell out tons o’ cash in donations, but have spaces that would be perfect for themed fundraisers, such as:
    • Pro-2nd Amendment party at the gun range.  It’s wise not to have an open bar at this one!
    • Pro-life rallies at church facilities
    • Pro-Israel rallies at synagogue facilities
    • Barn dances in districts with lots of farmers (my favorite districts!)
And here are just a couple of bonus tips for you:
  • A good rule of thumb about fundraising event admission: Charge at least 2 times and no more than 5 times the cost of a regular meal at the venue.  So if your fundraiser is at McDonalds, charge $10-25 to attend; if it’s at Ruth Chris Steak House, charge $150-$375.
  • Make sure your donors are aware of any limitations to how much they can contribute – the last thing you want to do is return a check because it’s over the legal limit you can accept from an individual.  If a donor has already reached a federal or state mandated maximum, you should let them come to any event for free – usually they’ll bring paying friends!
  • Dress to impress, but don’t always make your supporters.  Black tie fundraisers are, eh, okay I guess, but the boot-scootin’ kind are way more fun, and cheaper to pull off, too.

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